Video Games

‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’ gets lost while exploring many great concepts

“Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” is the swap meet of role-playing games.

The Square Enix marketing team should have hired people to stand on boxes outside game stores stopping people as they pass. “Hey sonny, you like stealth mechanics? An open-world concept that’s actually closed? Using different methods to solve the same problem over and over? Cool toys? And tell me – do you by chance hunger for complex political and social themes? Then this game’s the one for you!”

I allowed the latest “Deus Ex” – a sequel to 2011’s “Human Revolution” and a prequel to the original – to sweet talk me like this for a few hours. It appears to have everything: An explorable world filled with side missions that tie into a rigidly scripted storyline, limitless approaches to these tasks and cool Steampunk gadgets. It is both first-person and third-person. It rewards stealth and brute force equally. Adam Jensen, the hero from “Human Revolution,” has returned to unravel layers of conspiracies with deep political and social overtones. Get out the popcorn.

Unfortunately, this ambitious approach yielded mixed – at best – results. Every strength is balanced by a weakness. The graphics are solid, but the game is prone to frame-rate issues and minor bugs when entering a new area. It allows you to explore a beautifully imagined dystopic Prague, but limits your travels to only a few roads and buildings.

The title’s biggest strength is without question the freedom given to players when completing missions. Jensen has a dozen customizable and upgradable gadgets. He can employ stealth, diplomacy, technology or a military arsenal. The environments he is plunged into are quite interactive, as ventilation shafts and back tunnels provide even more options.

I loved this approach in theory, but extremely bad controls made it a chore to use all of these things. It took about five hours just to get the buttons straight. The sprint button is triangle, which any person who has ever played any PlayStation game knows is sacrilege. If you want to holster your weapon, you have to hold square then tap another button. Don’t hold square, as that triggers another command. And don’t just press square, as that does yet another thing.

Even after I mastered the controls, my expertise and the tools at my disposal were squandered on repetitive tasks. Here’s the conversation you will have before basically every mission on the main story arch:

Person in charge: Jensen, we need (person or thing). Only you can get to it.

Jensen, in a ridiculously hushed voice: I bet it’s heavily guarded.

Person: Oh you bet your sweet buns it’s heavily guarded. The brass doesn’t care how you do it: Just get it done.

The dialogue is really that stale. If it was a loaf of bread, throwing it at someone would result in an assault with a deadly weapon charge. And that’s a huge disappointment, because a lot of great conversations were possible due to the serious and complex thematic elements present in “Mankind Divided.”

The game takes place two years after “Human Revolution,” which ended with the Augs – people with robotic augmentations designed to either correct defects or enhance capabilities – going crazy and attacking regular folks. Jensen, an Aug, had nearly gotten to the bottom of a conspiracy involving – what else – the Illuminati, when his fellow Augs plunged the futuristic world into chaos.

In the aftermath of the attack, humans have begun persecuting the Augs in what developer Eidos Montreal controversially dubbed the “mechanical apartheid.” A resistance movement has formed, preaching nonviolence in public but preparing for war in private. Local police are at the heart of this persecution, leading the resistance to employ methods that bear a striking and very intentional resemblance to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. “Mankind Divided” promotional images even featured an Aug holding a sign that read “Aug Lives Matter.”

Using words like apartheid and parodying a current, polarizing activism movement rubbed some people the wrong way. I felt precisely the opposite. This is simply art imitating life. The social climate present in “Mankind Divided” is harrowing but realistic. It takes place only 13 years in the future, and the simulated world’s reaction to a major attack by one specific group is totally believable.

However, Jensen is made to rush through militaristic snatch-and-grab missions over and over again rather than delving deeper into the prevailing social issues. Players can’t take advantage of this remarkable world. We merely fly by it on the way to our destination.

I’ll say this about “Mankind Divided”: It’s probably the most complete single-player game released in quite some time. It does not need downloadable content, free updates or bug fixed to be made whole.

But while I am happy to knock an incomplete $60 game, I don’t give bonus points for being finished. Complete games should always be the standard, and a polished shell is not enough to bring “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” out of mediocrity.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Video Game Review

▪ Rated mature for drug and alcohol use, blood and gore, graphic violence and adult language

▪ Developer: Eidos Montreal

▪ Publisher: Square Enix

▪ Out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC

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